SAN ANTONIO - LeBron James was virtually anointed the NBA's savior this week. The San Antonio Spurs got an earful, but never got upset or annoyed.
Instead, they got even.
The Spurs devised a defense to deny and frustrate James, and it led to a 1-0 series lead in the NBA finals. San Antonio beat the Cavaliers 85-76, James scoring just 14 points in Game 1 at the AT&T Center.
The game was out of reach for the Cavs after three quarters, but they came back in the fourth quarter to make the score respectable. The Cavs are 0-13 all-time in playoff Game 1s on the road. Game 2 is Sunday night.
From the outset, the Spurs double and triple-teamed James. When he went to the hole, the interior defense was too strong. In addition to his 24 points and 13 rebounds, Tim Duncan had five blocked shots.
James had six turnovers, and shot 4-for-16. Averaging more than eight assists in the playoffs coming in, he had just four.
"I've seen him struggle before; he struggled mightily tonight," Cavs coach Mike Brown said. "They closed down the lane and he wasn't able to get in."
On the other end, the Cavs had no answer for point guard Tony Parker. Parker drove through the lane for 27 points and dished out seven assists.
Rookie Daniel "Boobie" Gibson led the Cavaliers with 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting. Drew Gooden had 14 and Sasha Pavlovic added 13, but center Zydrunas Ilgauskas was ineffective, scoring just two points on 1-for-8 shooting.
The Spurs seemed to get their hands on every loose ball. The Cavs were the second-best rebounding team in the NBA during the regular season, but were outrebounded by 11. The Spurs had 19 second-chance points.
"Most of the loose balls they got after, and they beat us in some other hustle areas," Brown said.
The Cavs didn't trail by more than eight points at any time in the Eastern Conference finals. With 4:39 in the third, they fell down by nine on a Manu Ginobli 3-pointer, and by the end of the quarter they were down 15.
James was 0-for-7 shooting in the first half and had just one assist.
"It was definitely crowded. They did a great job of shrinking the floor," James said." If I went by one guy, another guy stepped up."
The frustration started early, and on the Cavs' last play of the first quarter he was called for an offensive foul, Ginobli taking the charge.
"LeBron didn't have a great night," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "Sometimes shots don't fall for people. The next night he may shoot 60 percent."
The Cavaliers never denied they were happy to be in their first finals. But after three quarters, it seemed as if they were just happy to be there. They had one of their lackluster third quarters, scoring just 14 points.
James' first field goal came with 7:15 left in the third, a layup past Duncan.
But then Ilgauskas missed two straight jumpers and Bruce Bowen hit a 3 to put the Spurs up nine.
Gooden had 10 third-quarter points for the Cavs. But with 2:21 in the period, Gooden was whistled for a flagrant foul on Ginobli as Ginobli broke toward the basket after a steal, giving the Spurs even more momentum.
James found a bit of a stroke in the fourth, making two straight 3-pointers, but by then it was too late.
"It's going to have to be an incredible effort the entire series [on James]," Duncan said. "I know he's going to come out stronger the next game."
The Cavs shot 33 percent and had five turnovers in the first quarter, but were only down five.
They took the lead during a stretch when the Spurs were scoreless for first 3 1/2 minutes of the second quarter, and didn't have a field goal for first six minutes.
But San Antonio went on a 9-0 run in the span of one minute to go back up by six, and never lost the lead again.
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